We’ve all seen a courtroom drama, where the judge turns to a Jury spokesperson and asks them if they’ve reached a verdict. We wait for the words “We have your honor” and then wait for the guilty or not guilty verdict. Fun as it is on the screen, trial by jury seems odd. A person’s life or a company’s fate is literally in the hands of strangers who have had little to no training in legal matters. However, there are sound reasons why trial by jury is still valuable to the fabric of our law system and our communities.
Trial by your peers
One of the most persuasive arguments for trial by jury is the notion that a person who is accused of a crime is being tried by their peers. This serves the purpose of having someone tried by the people as opposed to a learned judge who might know and understand the law, but who, by himself, cannot best decide its interpretation and how justice is served best. Since the jury consists of members who have no real material interest in the case, the jury’s interest is only to uphold what they believe is right under the law, given the evidence they’ve heard. The system is designed to be rid of as much bias as possible from the minds of the jurors.
Jury selection might be flawed
However, trial by jury can be seen as deeply flawed. The cross-section of a community that should make up the jury is sometimes not as representative as it should be. People who are involved in the legal profession cannot be jurors. Interestingly, people who have committed a crime cannot be either. This would suggest that people who have a criminal record are not part of the community, even after they have served or paid for their crimes. In the United States more than the UK, there have also been doubts about the jury selection being manipulated or perverted to get sympathetic or hostile jurors. The subject of race in jury selection has been a controversial issue in the States for decades. There is also the issue that some high profile cases can never be truly unbiased in the modern world where constant news coverage, which means that the jurors are often exposed to media perspectives on a case. This has worsened in the last decade with the emergence of social media, which is even less rigorous in its presentation of information in the most objective light.
Jurors are flawed
With even the best scenario of a dispassionate, objective jury, members can be easily swayed by a persuasive solicitor from a good firm. However, the solicitor or barrister is duty-bound to represent a client to the best of their ability, so really, they are performing as they should by trying to influence a jury. Where they stray into deliberately trying to mislead a jury is too muddled to separate.
As flawed as the jury system might be, it is there to provide justice by the people for the people. It seems like a lottery for defendants and prosecutors, but it still provides the most balanced and nuanced way to provide justice to both the individual and the community.